We live in a noisy world. Media, traditional and social, clamors for attention. Emails and texts clog our phones. Our open-plan offices echo with "collaboration."

To get our message heard, we're told to "cut through the noise." So we brand a little harder, talk a little louder, push more content out the door.

Ironically, we have it exactly backwards. The most powerful force in business is the silent pause in the midst of the hubbub.

This became abundantly clear to me while I was working with a client on his sales presentation.

While his presentation amply illustrated his credibility and the quality of his work, it failed to accomplish what was arguably its most important task: defend his higher price against low-ball competition.

To accomplish this, I added a slide near the top of the presentation which "reframed" the entire presentation so that asking a discount or going to a competitor were no longer viable options.

How I did this with one slide is another story that I may share at some point in the future. What's important here is that the slide could only perform its full "magic" if preceded by two seconds of silence.

That "wait for it" silence is powerful. It builds suspense. It signals to the audience that what comes next is important. It commands attention that otherwise wanders.

In a previous post, I explained how 7 seconds of silence during a salary negotiation got me $18,000 that I'd otherwise have gone without. In dozens of similarly business situations, silence is far more eloquent than mere words can ever be.

Example: somebody shares an idea with you. If you jump right in with your opinion or (worse) interrupt before the other person finishes, you've turned an opportunity into an insult.

But consider how different it is when you let the other person finish and then pause, in silence, to consider what was said. That short silence conveys respect and adds more weight to your words.

Similarly, every company wants to be innovative and, in that quest, many have fetishized "collaboration" and thus created the noisy chaos of the modern office. 

But consider: do the good ideas come when everyone is talking? I think not. In brainstorming sessions, the best ideas emerge from the spontaneous silence that occurs after everyone has verbally drained out their preconceived notions.

Similarly, in marketing, what you don't say (silence) is more important that what do say. A strong market message excludes what's irrelevant (silence) as much as it emphasizes what's relevant.

Same thing with advertising. The most effective, memorable ads are sparsely worded with long periods of silence. The most annoying and forgettable ads are the motor-mouth carnival bark of features and functions.

In business, silence is truly golden.

Published on: Aug 13, 2016
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